Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men

As Mentioned in Episode 224 – Fix the Future

Listen to the episode here.



  1. RE: Syntax saves the world.

    I’ve always been delighted to the way a strict observance of loopholes carries to surprising results, both in a computing environment and in fairy tales. E.g., Y2K, Cinderella & midnight, Sir Didimus and his bow about crossing the bridge…

    1. I’d be a little worried that the Sentinels, not being the best at interpreting intent over definition might decide things like

      “Right, everyone’s vegan now because no animals can be killed, according to our directive.”

      “Absolutely everyone is going in life support machines right now because we can’t allow anyone to die”

        1. And does the fact that our immune systems are constantly disposing of bacteria and viruses create an immediate existential crisis for the Sentinels. Can a Sentinel even *move* without risking the destruction of insect life?

          It’s an objection that I think the story should have probably addressed, because it’s not really fridge logic – the nature of the plot device tends to direct the reader’s attention to the precise interpretation of language as an issue. This is a shame, because Davis’s conceit is a nice riff on the Adams/Thomas story that in many ways created the “real” Sentinels* and ends with them over-literally interpreting their programming as requiring them to try to destroy the sun.

          I suppose that one could argue that the whole “flying into the sun” experience had led to later generations of Sentinels being programmed with a “Keep it practical, guys!” limitation on the interpretation of commands. Cf. that Sentinels can apparently be around Hounds without immediately blasting them into smithereens, presumably because of some “serves the long-term goal” exception.

          *When I say that Adams and Thomas created the “real” Sentinels, I mostly mean that they were the ones – primarily Adams, I imagine – who made the Sentinels gigantic in size, and this somehow adds something essential that the original Kirby design was lacking.

    2. This plays out really remarkably for actual artificial intelligences, too. There’s a terrific spreadsheet somewhere of weird ways AIs have hacked or played systems to achieve goals; I don’t have a link on hand, but I’ll see if I can dig it up…

      1. Pretty much the entirety of Dr Susan Calvin’s career was playing semantic tic-tac-toe with the Three Laws of Robotics. Dr Asimov would be so pleased it’s coming true.

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